Rising Tension: Roy and James Play Cards

pokerpokergirl182447

The purpose of today’s excerpt from “A New Kingdom” is to reinforce some of the concepts discussed in my last two posts, building stakes and increasing tension. If you don’t have any idea what either of these terms mean, I suggests you click those links^ and check them out.

I’ve highlighted any lines that are specifically designed to increase tension, establish the stakes, or foreshadow problems to come. This scene is about Fitz and the threat he poses. He is the antagonist of the underground scenes. Enjoy.

* * *

        “What about Fitz? He’s not going to want us back there.

Let me worry about Fitz,” said Roy.

The pair got up and made their way down the corridor. The yellow lights helped make daytime feel almost authentic. Many families sat in the hallway, exchanging their horror stories from the night of the invasion. The cute blonde girl with the yellow rubber boots sat alone, and for a moment James thought about introducing himself, maybe even inviting her to play cards. He wondered if she were dealing with the loss of her parents as well.

Placed at the end of the hallway was a cardboard box, labeled “ELECTION.” When they finally reached it, James peered inside and saw it was filled with napkins – write-in votes for the new underground ruler.

“I don’t get why we are having this damn election today, you know? We’re done if Fitz wins – might as well as be underground slaves from here on out. And why are we voting for a ruler? Shouldn’t we vote for a leader? Somebody oughtta speak up about this stuff,” said Roy.

They entered the backroom that Fitz had strictly reserved for underground council meetings.

Roy dealt James a couple of cards, who turned them around to see a queen and a seven.

“Why don’t you speak up?”

Roy checked on his own hand, “Wouldn’t do no good. None a’them are gonna listen to me, kid. Most adults don’t like me.”

With a quick hand, Roy flipped over three cards on the table. There was an eight, a nine, and a six, giving James an open-ended straight draw. Roy bet and James called.

“Maybe you should try to make them like you? You never know unless you try.”

Roy laughed, “There’s some people I prefer to dislike me. If a guy like Fitz liked me, I don’t think I’d like myself.”

A fourth card was flipped on the table, and a ten was turned over. James had a straight. Roy bet and James re-raised all in. Roy put his hands behind his head, sat back in his chair, and looked as though he were thinking his move over.

“I’m sure you got a seven, which gives you a straight. The damned thing is, I flopped one too, ‘cause I got a five-seven. So I gotta call, but I’m gonna be pretty damn upset if that last card gives you a better hand.”

Roy pushed all of his chips into the center, and both of them were all-in. He flipped over the final card, a jack of clubs. James revealed his hand, and Roy tossed the entire deck into the air.

“C’mon kid, how could you do that to me?”

James didn’t see it at first, but when he studied his hand further, he realized why Roy was upset – The last card gave James a higher straight, Queen-Jack-10-9-8. He got lucky. Roy’s frustration died down, as he chuckled at his bad-beat and picked up the scattered cards.

“You see, in this game, all the brains in the world won’t guarantee success. The skilled professional can lose to the young novice, any day of the week-

The office door flew open, and Colonel Fitz’s entered in.

“Pick up your things and leave. This isn’t a game room – it’s for official government meetings only.”

Roy shuffled the cards and dealt out a new hand. “With all due respect, sergeant anus, there are only four rooms in this place. If there were more, I’d understand. But we may be down here for a very long time, so I’d ‘ppreciate it if you eased up a little bit.”

James pretended not to notice the escalating tension between the two grown men as he picked up the cards.

Fitz marched over to Roy until he stood over him. “It’s Colonel Fitz, low-life. And I will not stand for any under-age gambling. This meeting room is for grown-ups only. That means both of you need to leave.”

Fitz used his arms to pile up all the poker chips into the center of the table, erasing the winnings for both opponents. Roy stood up and put his face to Fitz’s. “Look, Colonel Dick head, when you and your friends finally come here to play ‘pretend government,’ when you make huge decisions like ‘who showers when?’ Then we’ll get out of here. But until then, I’m gonna enjoy life the little bit that I can, and me and my buddy James are gonna play cards right here, whenever we want,” He said, then pounded his fist against the glossy marble.

The colonel took a step back. “Today, go ahead, play your silly game. But I got news for you.” Fitz pressed his finger into Roy’s chest. “I am a military man, Roy, and you don’t wanna start a war with a military man. When I win that election, you’re going to change your attitude.

Fitz left the room. Roy grabbed the deck of cards and returned to dealing them like nothing had even happened. After a couple minutes, James finally broke the silence.

“I think you might be right about some people not liking you.”

Roy shook his head. “If Fitz wins that election, ain’t nobody down here is ever gonna see the surface again. That man is power hungry, James, and hungry people don’t like sharing their food.”

* * *

–  Thomas M. Watt

Author of “A New Kingdom”

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Tension: James meets Penny Part 2

tension

In my last post, we discussed how to raise stakes for specific situations. By constantly reminding the reader of the importance of your protagonist’s current quest, whether through direct writing or subtext, you will build toward a rewarding climax. Even though this is only one chapter out of the book, it is important to constantly fill your stories with build-ups and pay-offs. If you missed my last post, I suggest you take the time to read it in order to understand the importance of it. Reach it by clicking here.

In the following scene, I’ve created a rise in tension by making the situation more and more uncomfortable for James. Remember from the last scene, his initial meeting with Penny is going to have an enormous effect on his psychological state, one way or the other. Here’s the excerpt from “A New Kingdom.”

* * *

       “That’s it kid, I can’t watch you embarrass yourself any longer.” Roy tossed his cards, stood up, and walked toward the group. James looked away nervously, hoping to God that Roy wouldn’t do what James was certain he was about to do.

“Excuse me, miss – it’s Penny, correct?”

James could hear Penny and the rest of her group slowly come to a stop.

“Yes, that’s me.”

James watched Roy cup his hands together and speak more elegantly than he ever had before.

“Well Penny, my name is Roy, and that there’s my friend James.” He pointed right at him with two fingers glued together.

James looked away. Every part of him wanted to smash his own face into the wall. The other part of him wanted to tackle Roy.

“Give us a wave, James,” said Roy.

James gulped, then looked back and waved hesitantly with a terribly corny smile.

“You see Penny, James here is the greatest guy I’ve ever known. And he’s done so many great things for me, I wanted to help him out a bit.”

“Oh, O.K,” said Penny.

Roy continued. “And this great guy, who I like to call James the great, he really digs ya, Penny. He says you’re the most beautiful gal he has ever set eyes on. Every time you walk by, make your bed, or read a book, James is watching you.”

Penny took a step back and looked horrified.

“Don’t worry, Penn. James is no stalker. As a matter of fact, he told me yesterday he wants to start a stalker awareness club. You know what’s not a joke? How lovely James thinks you are. I think you ought a give him a chance. After all, you two are the same age, stuck underground in a base, it seems like it’s meant to be, don’t ya think?”

James looked up at the ceiling. He wanted God to hear his prayer. He prayed that the brick ceiling above would collapse and kill him. And if it wasn’t too much trouble, to please let it kill Roy as well.

“Fine,” said Penny with a shrug, “I’ll meet him.”

“Best decision you ever made.”

As Roy walked Penny over, James wiped instant oatmeal crumbs from his jeans and held his hand out for a handshake.

“You can call me James.”

“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather ‘James the Great’?”

James laughed loudly and for a bit longer than the joke deserved. He made a face at Roy like an awkward cry for help. Roy countered with a wink and a smile, then left him to fend for himself. James felt his heart in his throat. He stood up.

“James is fine. Uh, you like to read, huh?”

“I guess so… I never read much before, but down here I don’t have much of a choice, not in this hellhole.”

Afraid his nervousness might become visible, James put on the best front that he could. He leaned smoothly up-against the wall beside him, and casually slid his hand into his pocket.

“Yea, life is pretty plain down here. Me and crazy Roy pretty much just play cards all day. Life would be a ton better if it wasn’t for that stupid council, all those idiots do is make schedules and stupid restrictions. Without them, life down here would be great.”

Penny looked down at her feet, “Yeah, ha, right… Ummm, tell me about your friend Roy. How do you know him?”

“Met him the night of the invasion. Crazy Roy keeps it real, and he’s a former pro poker player! Plus he can play some tunes on the guitar, and I think he said he used to be a pilot or something.”

“That’s kinda cool.”

“Yeah, and he has all this chewing tobacco stuff, and he lets me take as much as I want.”

“Ew… Does he have any alcohol?”

“Oh ya, he does.”

Penny moved in and put her hands on James’ wrist. Her bracelets jingled, “James, me, you, and Roy. We’re drinking tonight!!”

“Well… yeah, okay.”

“Don’t tell me you’re scared?”

James laughed awkwardly, “I’m not scared, I’m down. I’ll ask Roy.”

“Good.” Said Penny. With a wide, seductive smile, she left to go to breakfast. At first James walked away with calm strides, but as soon as he was in the clear he practically sprinted over to Roy.

* * *

Thomas M. Watt

Author of “A New Kingdom”

James meets Penny Part 1 – Building the Stakes

Durr

The quest of your protagonist will matter more to your readers when the repercussions of failing at that goal will have known devastating internal or external consequences.

In the following scene, James puts Penny on such a high pedestal that his initial encounter with her will have a drastic effect on his psychological well-being. All of this build-up is being done to create greater tension and conflict later on, which you will see in the second half of the chapter when it is posted tomorrow.

Every piece of dialogue or description that is designed to increase the stakes (the importance of James’ 1st conversation with Penny) is in bold typeface. The following is an excerpt from my novel “A New Kingdom.”

* * *

CHAPTER 12    

TSSH TSSH TST. The clamor from pots and pans being whacked together rang throughout the room. James slowly wiggled out from his bed and peeled his crusty eyes open. The clashing metal meant that it was time to wake up and get some breakfast, at least for James’ group.

It’d been nearly ten months since the invasion. Life in the underground military base consisted of the same monotonous routine, day-after-day. But group breakfast was the moment James most looked forward to – that was because Penny’s group always followed his.

Penny was the name of the blonde girl who always wore the yellow rubber boots. He still hadn’t ever spoken to her, but a couple times she’d caught him staring at her. This day, though, James planned to ignore her completely. That way he could tell if she liked him back. If she did, he’d catch her staring at him. It was a foolproof plan.

James and his group made their way into the long hallway. Juan put the pots and pans down. James wished him a ‘buenos tardes’ and received a smile back.

“I hate this friggen hall,” Roy muttered. He never woke up in a good mood.

“Morning Roy,” Janie said, as she past him.

“Morning,” said Roy. When she was far enough away, he whispered to James, “What a smoke-show.”

“Good morning guys!” Said Bill, who was walking right behind them.

“Morning Bill! Uhh, Great day, huh?” Called back Roy.

“Sure is.” Said Bill with a chipper voice, before letting out the standard giggle that came at the end of his every sentence. He skip-jogged to catch up with his wife.

Janie, who was second chair in the Underground Council, led James and the gang through the plant room and into the food area. Roy refused to refer to it by that name, and insisted on calling it the, ‘Homeless Buffet.’ He called it that because the ‘Food area’ was no more than an aluminum trashcan. It was filled twice daily with palm-sized portions that were determined by the council. Conservation was a fundamental rule for survival, Fitz had declared. Even those who were whittling down to skin and bone, and spent their days with arms over their bellies, were not permitted to eat more than their allotted share.

Janie handed out a packet of instant oatmeal to each of the bedmates, as well as canned pineapples for them to share. On the clipboard hanging from the trashcan, she wrote down exactly what foods they ate and the size of their portions. To avoid mistakes, each person had to sign off. This process was required by every group, for every meal.

James waited anxiously for Roy to sign. Penny and her group would be coming down the hallway any minute.

“Canned pineapples again, huh? You really ought’a talk to Fitz about changing it up a little,” Roy said to Janie.

“I would, but every man I talk to around here looks at me like they want to bend me over and-”

Roy popped the can open and spilled juice onto his chest and stomach. He hurried over to the sink to let the excess liquid drain out.

“Are you alright, Roy?”

“Uh, yeah… How do men look at you?”

James poked his head outside. Penny’s group was coming down the hallway. He didn’t want her to spot him sitting by himself, though. Then she’d think he was a loser.

“Like they want to bend me over to their perspective on things.”

“Oh. Course.”

 “C’mon Roy, sign the sheet,” said James.

 “What’s your hurry, kid? Got a date?”

 “What? No. Why?”

Roy laughed as he dried his shirt off. “All right, all right.” He signed the sheet and walked along with James out into the hallway. They reached their typical spot and sat down. Roy and James always played Go Fish during breakfast.

“Hurry Roy, deal them out,” said James.

“Geeze, hold your horses, I will!”

James wanted to look like he was busy when Penny walked by, so that she wouldn’t know that he was ignoring her on purpose.

After Roy dealt the cards, he spotted Penny and her group coming up the hallway. Roy looked back at James with a troublesome grin.

“What?” whispered James.

Roy shook his head and continued to smirk.

James adjusted his sitting position to be more upright, and when he spoke he did so with a manlier voice than normal. She might have been close enough to hear. “C’mon, let’s play.”

“That’s it kid, I can’t watch you embarrass yourself any longer.” Roy tossed his cards, stood up, and walked toward the group. James looked away nervously, hoping to God that Roy wouldn’t do what James was absolutely certain he was about to do.

To be continued…

* * *

Hope this helps!

– Thomas M. Watt

Author of “A New Kingdom”

Conflict: Wouldn’t you shoot a dog if it attacked your child?

conflict

Today I want to talk about conflict, the most important element in story, the one that reels more readers in than any other writing tool.

Conflict is the reason we always hear stories about cops and black men, Kardashian gender confusion, and small parties of people who stomp on the American Flag in protest of restricted rights and status for illegals. It is also the reason we don’t hear nearly as much about the atrocities and genocides being committed by Boko Haram and ISIS as we should.

Before I had a proper understanding of conflict, I always just assumed it was good vs. evil. That’s somewhat correct, but it’s not going to get you anywhere as a writer.

At the heart of any good conflict is debate. The issues that make the news most frequently are the issues that divide Americans into two camps opposing in viewpoints but equal in passion. That’s why the cop stories are always on the news – Are these criminals being unjustly treated due to the color of their skin, or are these cops being wrongly persecuted for simply doing a difficult job?

That’s why the title of this post immediately stirs controversy – well how big is the dog? How old is the child? Did it attack your favorite kid or the one you tell friends was adopted?

The search and desire for an answer prompts you to read on. Our brains are wired to ‘figure things out’. That’s why we’re always preoccupied by the problems in our lives, and constantly infatuated with cunts and dickheads undeserving of our attention. That’s why we fall for the bullshit emotional games and can’t help but play them again.

It’s also why, in my opinion, ISIS doesn’t get as much negative media coverage as it deserves – they are animals who deserve to be slaughtered. There is nothing to debate, they are evil.

So how do we successfully implement conflict into story?

Let me start by stating the obvious – stay away from black and white. In other words, make your evil characters evil, but never have them say things like –

“Being good is for sissies. Come to my side. Money. Girls. Guns. Come on. You know you want to be bad. Light me up an addictive cigarette and pour me a drink of alcohol while I laugh smugly and smile like I’m better than you. Then lets go get skull tattoos… on our necks.”

And you also never want your protagonists to respond with anything like this:

“Stay away from me, Mr. Darkside. I don’t smoke and I never will. And I believe girls is a derogatory term for women. That’s why I call them ‘angels’.”

The focus here may seem as though it is on character, but it’s really not. Learn to thread conflict through every storytelling element, theme included. Remember, questions intrigue us. Questions are problems we need to solve, questions keep us reading. Always.

Thomas M. Watt

Author of “A New Kingdom”

Versatile Blogger Award: Feast Your Eyes Bitches

I've been nominated for this!  So exciting....

That’s right, I won it.

Versatile blogger award?? What’s that, you ask?

Oh. Ha. A ha, ha…ha. you don’t even know what it is.

Well let me fill you in on a few little details:

The versatile blogger award doesn’t just go to anybody. There is a lengthy process involved, and the qualifications needed just to be nominated are enough to make your head spin. Let me give you a little perspective by telling you what I went through to win this award. I warn you – the daily grind to keep this blog so fresh and clean might come as a shock to you.

– I wake up every day no later than 4:30 a.m.

– I look at my alarm clock and wait until I fall back asleep.

– I wake up again at 9:30 a.m., when my alarm bell rings. I press the snooze button.

– I wake up at 11:23ish and pop out of bed, do three or less pushups, then blast my walk-out song as I make my way to breakfast. (a walk-out song is the rap song that plays for professional baseball players when they approach the plate to hit.)

– As “Ice Ice Baby” blares through my studio apartment, I punch the air with a series of aggressive jabs, secretly hoping I’m beating the shit out of the ghost who can’t be touched but can still feel pain. You might think that’s stupid, but when a ghost haunts your place, you can either stand up for yourself or just pretend he’s not there. I’m not a ghost pussy, I’ll stop fighting when he stops stealing my socks.

– I sit down and pour myself a bowl of cereal. It comes in this enormous cardboard box filled with dozens of bowls of cereal. I have to shake it really carefully, because a lot of the time more than one bowl will pop out, and even when I do only get one, the cereal always spills everywhere.

– I grab the milk from the fridge, then cautiously pour it all over my kitchen table, over the pieces of cereal. I then lick up the cereal as fast as I can, or else my Reeses Pieces are going to waterfall over the edge and wind up on the floor. And I hate eating food off the floor. It’s a lot harder and you can’t even sit down.

– I get on my computer and post a blog entry.

That’s EVERYDAY folks! Except for the weekend when I need time to recover, obviously. But next time you think about spending one full year of your life training for the versatile blogger award, I want you to ask yourself: Am I really willing to wake up at 4:30 am, just to post a blog entry? Because if you’re not, I just don’t think you’re gonna cut it in the free-online-blog-one-vote-wins-it-copy-and-paste-your-own-trophy award category.

Thanks again for nominating me, Aunt Joanna!! :)))) Check out her blog, she’s an amazing writer and an even greater story teller come thanksgiving.

Anyway, this is the gift that keeps on giving. Because now I get to write 7 interesting things about myself, and then I’m supposed to nominate 15 other bloggers 5 other bloggers for this award. Here’s 7 things you didn’t know about me:

1. I’m exceptionally boring.

2. I like turtles.

3. English is my first language.

4. That’s all I got.

5. I like Emenim? Specially the song “When the music stops.” That song is bad-ass.

6. A New Kingdom, the book I wrote, has just been nominated for a Hugo Award in the science fiction category.

7. Number 6 was a lie.

And now, to nominate 5 exceptionally versatile bloggers:

1. His actual name is writeswithtools. That’s how confident his parents were that he’d be a literary genius, which he is. His blog features post-after-post of useful storytelling information. In fact, merely browsing through his blog for a few minutes will help you improve your own writing dramatically, and at the very least open your eyes to the techniques and devices all great story-tellers use.

2. Linda G. Hill. She is so versatile, she actual maintains two blogs – one where she writes about life stuff, the other where she writes fiction.

3. Amy Barlow. Aka sharp little pencil. She has been my friend since the beginning of my wordpress (good old mcwatty9 days), taught me that it’s “all right” and never “alright”, and is a genuinely smart and funny person. She writes a lot of poetry and is never afraid to speak her mind. I like that about her.

4. Mike Steeden. He rhymes about drunk tom-foolery with pure elegance. I want to get drunk with this man. I think there’s a lot I could learn from him… But more importantly, I think he’d be fun as fuck to go out with.

5. Misha Burnett. He’s a really good writer and has incredible insight into whatever topics he chooses to discuss. This is someone who puts a lot of thought into what he writes, which probably explains why his novel, “Catskinners Book,” is beginning to sell like hotcakes.

Ok, that’s it. Congratulations to my versatile blogger nominees, now you get to nominate 15 other bloggers and write 7 interesting things about yourselves!

– Thomas M. Watt

Author of “A New Kingdom”

Storytelling Essentials: How to Buy Time for the Boring but Important Stuff

clock

The hardest storytelling element to successfully integrate into any story, in my opinion, is theme.

The theme of your story is the message you are trying to teach your readers. When theme is successfully implemented, story has the power to influence viewers and readers into perceiving the world in a different light.

This is where fiction earns its value – tell a kid not to smoke and he may not listen, but show him someone dying of lung cancer who still can’t kick the habit and he’s bound to think twice about lighting up.

Properly integrating theme into your story is one of the most difficult things for writers to do, and only the greats can truly master it.

Part of the problem with giving out moral lessons, however, is they’re generally pretty boring.

That’s why I’ve titled this post “Buying yourself time.” In the following excerpt, Danny O’Keefe gives James a speech that could easily bore readers and keep them from reading on. One of the great powers suspense wields is the ability to keep your readers zoned in on crucial information due to the urgent threat of danger, lurking just around the corner.

Notice how anticipation keeps you locked in on an important, but not riveting, conversation in the excerpt from “A New Kingdom” below:

* * *

“Everyone is going to die.”

James pushed away from the window, shoved his way through the tree branches, then ran up the steps to the front door and threw it open.

“What is going on?”

Mr. O’Keefe’s eyes dropped to his bottle of whiskey. Gregg pinned his lips closed and looked away.

“Why can’t I know?”

Gregg tried to make eye contact with Mr. O’Keefe, but Mr. O’Keefe was too infatuated with his whiskey bottle.

James marched over to his dad then grabbed the whiskey from his hands. “I’m seventeen now. I have a right to know whatever the hell is going on.”

Mr. O’keefe stood up and swatted the bottle back to himself. “Oh, quit whinin’! It don’t matter how old you are, I’m not even old enough to understand this.”

“Danny, we have to leave now. It locks shut at midnight.” Gregg said.

“Alright Gregg, can you give me a minute to talk with my boy?” Mr. O’Keefe moved over to the sink and poured himself a shot.

“We don’t have the time!”

“Then make the time!”

Greg shook his head, then waved his hand as he left the apartment and went outside.

Mr. O’Keefe addressed James. “Now, if he hadn’t been my good friend, I wouldn’t ‘ave believed him. And when he told me what was going on, I wouldn’t ‘ave even listened to ‘im if he hadn’t been pacin’ so bad. And after he finished talkin’, I still didn’t believe him, until he had me look through his telescope. Now, son, I believe him.”

Mr. O’Keefe took James by the arm and led him over to the scope. James peered through and felt his heart race from what he saw – Giant balls of light were bouncing around like mad, multiplying even.

“Gregg says, and this doesn’t roll off my tongue too easily, that we got aliens coming. That’s right boy, aliens. We’ve known about ’em for a while, apparently. They’ve been kept secret by our own government, Greg says. Up until now they’ve been friendly, but I suppose that was their way of getting to know us, to prepare for their invasion. They’re coming to ‘Take earth’, so to speak. Which means destroy us. I asked Gregg why we don’t fight the damn beasts, we got no shot, he says. Compared to them, we are as smart and powerful as little bunny rabbits, he says. I think that’s rubbish if you ask me, I never saw a fight that couldn’t be won, somehow.”

James’ attention remained glued to his dad.

“So Gregg tells me that a military man knew this invasion was going to happen. He sent out Gregg, among others, to retrieve those privileged enough and take them to Pine Mountain. There’s an underground base there. He says if we don’t get to it in time we won’t be alive come morning.” Mr. O’Keefe played with his shot, swirling it around a bit, then brought it to his nose and took a whiff. He then looked at James, then lowered the shot and smiled.

“What?” said James.

“Not tonight.” He laughed. “I’m not going to drink tonight.” Mr. O’Keefe poured the shot out in the sink. He then grabbed the bottle and poured the whole thing out, watching it blip blip blip its way down the drain. He rested the empty bottle on the counter, composed himself with a quick glance out the window, then took a seat in the wobbly wooden chair across from James. He scooted in close so that he sat face-to-face with his boy, then spoke with a direct, wise tone of voice.

“I’ve been really angry for a while now, James. Mad at my enemies, my friends, but especially myself. But more than anything else, I’ve been mad at God. And I think it’s because part of me knows that there is a God. That makes me so mad, Jimmy – knowing that there is a God, and he chose to let my beautiful, perfect wife die. He let your mother die, James… I try to understand that, with everything in me, but I can’t. Your mum loved God, you know. A lot more than I ever did.”

Danny smiled and went on. “But God let’n mum go dying didn’t just hurt me, James. It hurt you, too, and I know this. I see a lot of pain in you, Jimmy. I see a lot of struggle, a lot of sorrow. But beyond all that, buried deep inside a you, I see potential for greatness. You’re going to do great things, Jimmy, I know this in the bottom of my heart. There is greatness like I have never known within you.”

The front door swung open.

“We gotta go now!”

Hope this helps!

– Thomas M. Watt

Excerpt from A New Kingdom

Storytelling Essentials: Suspense

zombie-t-shirts

Suspense.

We’ve all heard the term, but an alarming number of people, writers even, don’t have the slightest idea of what suspense actually means. Hearing the term alone may enough to bring to mind images of zombies, dolls that talk, or maybe even a person rocking back and forth, biting their nails, and darting their eyes every which way.

In reality, none of those things have anything to do with suspense.

Suspense – information delayed.

In other words, the last example about the “nervous rocker” in the bit above is exactly what you want your reader to be doing when attempt to incorporate this element in your future stories. And in terms of importance to stories, suspense is not too far below conflict, which is really saying something.

The television show “Lost” thrived on suspense. Take that back – lived on it. And that’s also why the ending came as such a disappointment – though the writers were masters at keeping you glued to your screen from questions, they weren’t so good at delivering meaningful answers.

The key to good suspense is to get your readers to want to know what happens next. Zombies running out to tear you apart isn’t suspense, it’s violent and horrific. Approaching a door that may or may not be an entryway to a room-full of bloodthirsty zombies, however, is suspense. In fact, once you get your readers to care about the lives of your characters, you will have them hooked from the moment your characters approach that door until the moment they open it.

That’s why great suspense writers keep always keep us reading on the edge of our seats – for every answer they give us, another question is instantly raised, and another three probably already exist.

If I can get you to take anything away from me it’s this – your ability to raise questions in the minds of your readers will always be more important than your ability to deliver an incredible answer, though the ability to do both successfully will make you a master. But if the meat of your story is boring, than nobody is ever going to make it to that epic ending you put all that time and thought into.

The following is an excerpt from “A New Kingdom.” I’ve highlighted every line that is meant to make you ask a question and keep you desiring an answer.

* *

There was a loud pounding at the front door. James shared a look with his dad, until Mr. O’keefe finally got up and hobbled over. He opened the door to find Greg, dressed in combat boots and army attire.

“This is beyond urgent.”

“Why hello there Gregg, my wallet’s on the counter over there, judging by your entrance that’s what you’ve come for, isn’t it?”

“Where’s James?”

“He’s here… Why?”

Greg barged in, rushed over to James, then grabbed him by the back of his shirt and began shoving him towards the door.

“What tha hell are you doing? What’s going on here, Gregg?!” said Mr. O’keefe.

The military officer kept his firm hold on James and didn’t break stride. He tossed James down the steps of the stoop, turned around and headed back in.

CHAPTER 3

Whatever Gregg had to say was important, and James knew it. He crawled under a cluster of trees limbs and made his way over to the kitchen window. He couldn’t hear anything, but Greg’s frantic pacing and sporadic arm-waving told him all he needed to know – James and his dad were in danger.

James watched as Gregg finally stopped, tossed his arms in the air, then raced through the contents of his backpack. He hurriedly put together the pieces of a telescope, then set it up by the backyard window. After some frantic jolts of aim, he found whatever he was looking for. Gregg waved Mr. O’Keefe over to take a look. Mr. O’Keefe looked amused before he did. Afterward, the expression on his face dropped to a blank, lifeless stare.

Mr. O’Keefe walked over to the counter and swiped his bottle of whiskey into his chest. He took it with him to the kitchen table, sat down, then reached to unscrew it. He stopped short, then placed his hand around its body instead. He leaned back, ran his hands through his hair, then squeezed his eyelids shut. His lips moved so slow even James could read them:

  “Everyone is going to die.”

 * * *

Hope this helps!

Thomas M. Watt

A New Kingdom